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Saturday, September 12, 2015

GenCon: The Wheaton Experience


This GenCon was my Wheaton GenCon. I know that probably sounds weird, so let me back up a year. When I went to GenCon 2014, I had a list of things I wanted to do at GenCon. One of them was to see Wil Wheaton. My first heartbreak and realization that this would not happen was when Geek & Sundry scheduled his panel at the same time as my only opportunity to have a meta moment in my life (play Nuns on the Run dressed as a Steampunk Nun). At least, though, now I knew he was going to be at GenCon and I thought maybe I would get a glimpse of him there, so I tried to keep an eye open.

Almost as some sort of cosmic taunt, fate put my Nuns on the Run game right next to the Geek & Sundry booth and as we set up to play the game I looked up and saw a very attractive woman and someone I thought maybe could have been Wil Wheaton bustling out of the hall. All I saw were the backs of heads and made my own assumptions. My husband made fun of me, but I can honestly say I was disappointed to have been that close but saw nothing but a blur of hustle.

By the end of GenCon 2014, I figured, as with many things in my life, this meeting was never meant to be and I slowly accepted my position in life.

That was until GenCon 2015. . . and the amazing, kind hearts of my game club students who gave me the confidence and drive to do something amazing.

At the end of the school year, my students had me tweet a "Get Well" message to Anne Wheaton after she had tweeted out how horrible Wil was feeling. It was just a normal tweet, no fishing or hoping for some sort of attention. To our surprise and excitement, she passed along the kindness of my kids and Wil tweeted them back and they freaked out (oh yeah. . . so did I). They felt so cool. A few of the kids suggested making Wil Wheaton an Honorary Member of our club. I expressed typical adult hesitation, but said if I could make it happen at GenCon, I would. The worst that could happen is that I'd be out a shirt and a pin or two.

Well, Wheaton was going to be there! He was releasing Titansgrave and would be hosting a panel. First, . . . duh. . . . I'm going to the panel. I LOVE Titansgrave! Next, I had to write a letter and arrange pins (of which we were missing the black pin) and make it special. We wanted him to feel special for making us feel special and inspiring us.

I slaved over the letter. I wanted to make it perfect, but what kept happening was my struggle to separate my own fangirl from being a representative of my students' fanning. What kept coming up was that this was not about me, it was about the kids. They are why I am doing this. They deserve this moment. They are worth all of the effort and personal anxiety and everything else that goes with this process.

Time was ticking down. I had a plan. I was going to leave the gift-bag at the Geek & Sundry booth. I didn't want to be "that person" who ruined things by allowing my weird anxiety to get in the way personally. In my mind, I probably would have fumbled, tripped and tackled the poor guy and then would have to ruefully hand over the bag. Worst case scenario. . . In order to avoid this, my plan was to leave everything at the booth and I figured he'd stop by the booth eventually and then it would be in his hands and, well, that's that.

Thursday at GenCon arrived and, as you'll hopefully read in another post, Thursday was the roughest day. I was exhausted from the rush of the Exhibit Hall opening. My whole body was shaking from exhaustion, adrenaline, and who knows what else. Literally my hands were shaking and I was struggling to talk to people. Stupid me pushed myself to deliver the bag for my kids.

I approached the booth and immediately started talking to the lady there. I probably looked a mess. I flashed my educator credentials to counteract any potential assignment of crazy and explained that I just wanted to drop this off for Wil Wheaton. I pulled out the picture of my kids and gushed about them a little. The two ladies there took the bag and said they would give it to him and he would love it. Then the first lady gave me some wonderful temporary tattoos for my kids. She had to help me count them out, because I couldn't even get my hands to pick up and count out 11 tattoos.

Later in the day, I was just checking my various e-mails to make sure I wasn't required for any kind of task anywhere and there it was. . . an e-mail from the second lady at the Geek & Sundry booth. Wil had gotten the shirt and was thrilled. Attached was a picture of him and the shirt from my kids. I've refrained from sharing the photo in any of my social media spaces, because it really is something done for my kids and they're really the ones who get to see it. It's between Wheaton and my kids. So use your imagination and imagine Wil Wheaton holding up my club's shirt with a super happy smile!

AMAZING! I was so excited for my students. I'd be an idiot if I didn't admit it was exciting for me, too. Kind of like when you plan something special for someone else and it happens! My excitement was for being able to share it with my kids and seeing their excited faces.

That was the end of Day 1. Day 2 was the Titansgrave panel. I was really excited about this. So excited that I arrived at the event location super early. This ended up being a great experience for me, because I was able to friend with some of the other early fans. We talked and joked and really just had a ball. Then, when we got in, we ended up all sitting together right up front, despite having split up after getting through the door!  Here's my crew:



I'm in the empty seat. When I sat back down, the stage was right in front of me. The STAGE was right in FRONT of me. . .what did I do. . . I had nowhere to hide. I'm laid bare in front of the panel. I started to become anxious about being exposed. It didn't help that I was, physically, at my worst in the last six years and that I was sitting next to a young man who was having a hard time with his own concerns. Poor guy had a hard time whenever the audience clapped or laughed.

Then people started coming out on the stage and the audience lights went down and. . . there he was. . . RIGHT in front of me. I felt embarrassed. I wanted to hide. I felt like it was so ragingly obvious I'm a fangirl and I'm sitting directly in front of him and. . . it was time for deep breathes.

Did not flash. Did not film. Only 1.
I was in this alone. My husband and our friend opted out of coming with me. I could do this. Don't have a fall out of your chair moment. You'll be fine.

As things started to get underway I was calming down. I clapped, smashing my cellphone against my hand, because I had nowhere else to put it. Laura Bailey came out and I was so super stoked for that, too. The whole panel just hit all those buttons.

The panel was amazing! It was everything I wanted in a panel. Funny, informative, and intimate. One of the best panels I've been to. And then it happened. . . the Q&A. I have a history of horrible Q&A, but what the hell did I do when the Q&A was announced? THREW MY HAND UP IN THE AIR!

I am in front of somebody I respect and, duh, am a fan of, and I'm throwing my hand in the air like I literally just don't care. I had a question though. It was simple enough to be curse-proof. Wheaton started calling on people.

First person: Ok, there's still time to rethink this.

Second person: Great, I can still rethink my options.

Third person: Are you seriously not going to stop this madness?

With each additional person, I slowly started to lose my vigilance and was just going through the motions until it happened:

"I saw a hand here in the front someplace. Yes ma'am."

Holy shit! Is that me? Oh my god That's me! He pointed at me! I'm the ma'am! {Looking around for the mic}.

"That's you! He called on you!" says the lady next to me.

"Yea, you," Wheaton says, all helpful smiles and friendliness.

"Should I just talk really loud?" I started to sit forward in my chair and sit up straight.

"Just shout it out and I'll restate it. GO!"

Cue anxiety and shutting down and attempting to micomanage the headspace with the being put on the spot and it's just a simple question. He's staring at you. Everyone is staring at you. Just state it with confidence.

So here's my question that I had prepared in my head: "Will the same characters be coming back for Season 2?"

Here's what came out of my mouth: "My name is Sarah Bonilla and my question is about, um, will those characters end up,. .  I feel like this is silly, but will all the characters be in the season, like all the seasons. . ."

"So her question is. . ."

Watch his response to my bumbling 41:13.


Holy crap. Just seriously holy crap. I sort of made it through without being too idiotic. I totally was chosen by Wil Wheaton to ask a question. Cue 80's teeny-bopper excitement! Rode that high until the end of the show.

As I went to leave, I saw Anne Wheaton at the end of my row. I thought she would just go with everyone else behind the curtain afterwards, but she didn't. She stayed out with the audience. And as I added myself to the small que, I couldn't believe how she just emanated sweetness. Then all of a sudden she took off behind the curtain and the small group dispersed and as I was walking towards the door, she came back out, went right to the person right by me.

I felt like I jumped in front of her and said her name. I introduced myself, letting her know who I was and reminding her of that one time with the tweets. She said something reminding me that he tweeted me back. And I told her I remembered and that I just wanted to thank her for that, because it really meant the world to my kids. I also told her what my kids did in return for Wil.

Maybe I came off as fishing. Maybe she thought I was looking for something. I have a tendency to give off mixed-signals a lot, but I just wanted to thank her for having such a wonderful interaction with my students and it was just a big bundle of not being able to express how much her small little action made such a huge impression on these kids and they're going to remember it for a long time.

Can I just say, she was even more gorgeous in person! Apparently I was so gushy about how awesome what she did was, I almost made her cry. Oh geez to me! Then there was one or two moments where I felt like she was going to actually get Wil and I didn't want that to happen. Deep down it felt like if she did that I would have been abusing my position as a thankful messenger and heartfelt fan. I could be completely off about that, but as much as it would be wonderful to meet him in person, somehow I've convinced myself that it wouldn't be right. My students mean the world to me and allowing them to have incredible opportunities is really my goal.

Being able to celebrate gaming with my game club kids is such an amazing experience for everyone involved. They are so passionate and dedicated. They are so wonderful and I appreciate their dedication to gaming so much, I even put aside some of my summer days to meet up and game with them. Who hangs out with their teacher during the summer? Oh yeah, kids who have found someone who shares their passion and helps them be part of a community that embraces them and makes them feel included. We are a family.

At the end of the day, the whole experience was amazing. I'll always feel weird and awkward sharing my own appreciation for all the things Wil Wheaton has done that have inadvertently helped me in my own journey, but there's no holds barred when it comes to representing my kids who are so important to me they are like my own kids.

So thanks to Wil and Anne Wheaton for their sweet hearts and allowing for these kids to have such a memorable and meaningful experience.